WASHINGTON — Following Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, European leaders have been trying to figure out how they can keep up their efforts to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions without their American ally’s support. On Monday, the European Union published a diplomatic plan to accomplish this in a way that European officials and their American counterparts believe will give Iran strong incentives to remain in the deal.
“We believe that the European defense spear can play a very important role in this,” European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters Monday at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “The Iranian nuclear agreement was not a defense agreement. Our Iranian friends understand that very well.”
The proposal, which emphasizes diplomacy over force, seeks to ensure that Europe will be able to counter threats posed by the Islamic Republic.
Washington and Europe share concerns about Tehran’s missile program and the country’s behavior in the Middle East, where it has been a strong backer of Shiite militias that have clashed with Iraqi troops and Syrian rebels.
A possible weapon of choice is a fifth-generation, tactical nuclear-capable cruise missile, originally built by a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, which Iran has acquired.
The proposal published by the EU on Monday was formulated in close consultation with the European parliament, the NATO secretary general and the United States.
The members of the European Union must now work on implementing the plan, which consists of three broad areas: countering “terrorism and the threat posed by irregular migration; empowering the civilian security sector in conflict-affected and fragile countries and preventing conflict-transmission of weapons and radioactive materials; and helping to build state capacity in civil-military areas.”
Both nations and the EU have expressed frustration over the slow pace of progress on implementing the Iran nuclear deal. After the agreement was signed in 2015, Iran agreed to slash its stockpile of enriched uranium and return to uranium enrichment levels, under the watch of international inspectors, that would result in the country retaining the ability to generate medical isotopes for humanitarian use. A key provision of the agreement, which former President Barack Obama championed, was that the U.S. Congress couldn’t re-impose economic sanctions on Iran.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has also expressed worries that the Iran deal is “not renegotiable.”
White House officials, who appear focused more on thwarting Iran’s malign activities than designing an alternative to the Iran nuclear deal, hope the EU proposal will give them leverage on the issue.
A senior administration official said President Donald Trump has no immediate plans to alter the Iran deal, nor is he considering the specific threat of Iran’s ballistic missile program.